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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Travel Tips, Part 5: Hotels, Flights, Luggage

I've often wondered how middle-class people (such as my parents) are able to afford to go overseas every year to places as exotic and as far-flung as Patagonia, Alaska, the Arctic Circle, the Galapagos, Africa, and remotest parts of Asia?

Answer: They're not only frugal; they're also savvy travellers.  

Here are some tips and tricks to travelling in frugal  glamorous style on a great budget.

This is one of the best accommodation websites in the world. I subscribe to their mail-outs, and often make small noises of excitment when the latest additions lob in. It's true travel porn: beautiful places at affordable prices.
 (Please note: I'm not affiliated with any of these companies.)

Particularly good for families or groups, One Fine Stay offers upmarket, multi-bedroom homes to rent in London, Paris and New York – much like, only far more luxurious. So you don't get the smelly spare bedroom in the back of the SoHo artist's loft. 

My favourite is the converted Carriage House in New York's Greenwich Village (top image), but there are amazing properties to rent for a few days or a week, from a Malibu beach house right on the sand to a gorgeous cottage with a pool in the Hollywood Hills, plus elegant apartments in London and Paris. Many of them have their own gardens, terraces or  courtyards. 

A new venture started by a couple of entrepreneurial Aussies, is a little like in that it allows you to find the cheapest flights to a destination, however it also shows you a graph of the cheapest days in a month. The only downside is that it only seems to include economy prices. 

I typed in Melbourne-Paris and it showed the cheapest dates showing up were mid-November.

(NB Skyscanner used to be a fav, but I've realised they only show their preferred airlines.)

This tip has been mentioned on the blog before. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday really are the cheapest days to travel. It's been proven that airlines discount their Tuesday flights by as much as 20–30%. Look at the difference in prices here between Sat Oct 11 and Wednesday Oct 15 – $700.
(NB Can't remember sources, terrible journalist that I am!)

The major travel hubs are London, Singapore, LA and New York. Okay, perhaps Washington DC too. If you can get to one of these cities, your flights from these cities to your final destinations will be cheaper. The idea is to use frequent flyers to get to these hubs, or cheap hoppers such as Jetstar, Jetblue or Ryanair.

For example. 
If I booked a direct flight with Singapore Airlines (one of the best airlines in the world) from Melbourne to London, it would cost around A$ or US$2200. 
But if I booked a cheap Jetstar to Singapore ($450 return), then picked up a Singapore Airlines flight for the straight-through leg to London, the latter flight is only $1000 (booked direct via the Singapore Airlines website), making the total fare $1450. (If you need to stop in Singapore, the city's gardens are gorgeous, and the Airport Transit Hotel is only $70. You also have more to spend on your London hotel, such as the new Ham Yard, above.)
Even if Jetstar's fares are $550, you're still saving a lot of money on a top-tier airline.

That said, there is an exception to the rule. Paris. 
Flights to Paris are increasingly becoming $400 or so cheaper than London. 
I don't know why? Perhaps airlines realised everyone was flying into London?

The problem with Paris is CDG (Charles de Gaulle), which – even after new renos – is impossibly difficult to navigate and clear security. 
Still, let's not complain. It's still Paris, after all.

If you're flexible, look at events that may be on, or great times to be in town, and coordinate your trip around them. 

1. For example, if you love fashion, Herm├Ęs in Paris has a great sale in January and June/July. (Dates vary; details are usually on Internet.) (I would love to find a cheap version of this Macpherson bag, above, to hold my camera!)

2. Most major fashion exhibitions begin in October each year (although a few start in May, such as the Met's Constume Institute's shows), so research to see if there are fantastic fashion shows opening.

3. If you love gardens, the various Open Garden Days and Weekends in April and June allow you to peek inside someone's home. (The best private gardens in the US usually open April; the best ones in England usually open June.) 

4. Sydney is best seen over the New Year's Eve period: the fireworks over the harbour really are the best NYE displays in the world. Similarly, Venice has an amazing atmosphere and fireworks show for Festa del Redentore during the 3rd weekend of July.

5. Paris is TERRIBLE in May (it rains constantly) but beautiful in April when the blossoms open and summer exhibitions begin, and again in late Sept, when Fashion Week peeps descend on the city and the weather is still balmy and warm.

6. Monet's garden at Giverny is perfect for one week in late May or early June, when much of the garden turns a stunning shade of purple. The beautiful mauve ladies’ rockets blend with the big rhodos, the blue lupines and the blue sages, amongst other flowers. The scene doesn’t last long, but it is spectacular. The beds turn progressively pink as summer errupts. The 'Blue Period' is a brief but memorable week between the bulbs and the summer blooms. {link}

7. New York is glorious in either April, when the blossoms and bulbs are out, or the 'fall' period during October, when the autumn leaves are changing. Christmas is also magical if you have kids: NY does windows like no other city in the world. Avoid summer like the plague.


Airlines now allow you to select your seat when you book your ticket online. Do take advantage of this, but there are tricks to choosing. There are lots of tips and reviews on, which shows you the best seat on your chosen flight, but here are few more:

1. If you're a couple, try to book either side of a three-seat section at the rear of Economy. Most people don't like the rear, and the middle seats fill up last because people naturally prefer aisle or window. Odds are the middle seat will stay empty and you'll have a spare seat to throw your things.

2. NEVER BOOK THE VERY LAST ROW. For some reason, the last seats in most airlines don't recline due to the design of the rear area. You'll be vertical the whole flight.

3. Some airlines have an odd configuration of seating in Economy where a middle row narrows or widens and one of the aisle seats in the middle has massive leg room (See 48D above). BOOK THIS SEAT for best Stretch Factor.

There are lots of tips to choosing seats in the premium classes on this website – Business Traveller magazine

The Exit Seats are great, but just remember that the Body Cupboards (used for storing dead bodies of people who die in-flight) are often located near those central areas for ease of storing the, er, cadavers. 
(NB This is a new thing on the A380s; previously dead people were often shoved in a toilet, or in First Class with a blanket over them.)

I once wrote a cover story for the Sydney Morning Herald's magazine about in-flight antics, and heard a story (which turned out to be true) of two male pilots who put the plane into autopilot and had sex in the cockpit. (Must have been a spacious cockpit?) I still think of that when the plane lurches and drops suddenly at 10,000 feet.

Jo Karnaghan is a Sydney doctor who travels the world when she's not seeing patients. Jo's started a fantastic website called Frugal First Class Travel, which covers how to travel well for cheap – link. She's one of those people who's so well informed you'd love to have her as a friend, and indeed she and I have been emailing because I'm so enamoured with her and her insights.


Packing is an ongoing learning curve, and I still get it wrong. That's just Travel Law. But here are the things I've learned, and never leave home without:

1. Only take a carry-on bag. If you want to buy things, cheap suitcases can be bought overseas for $50. In the meantime, a carry-on (with wheels) gives you greater flexibility, less waiting time, and more security/peace of mind. 

2. Cut back on luggage weight but only taking an iPad rather than a laptop, a smaller Leica camera (great camera) rather than a big DSLR, minimum toiletries (buy more there: Boots and US chemists are very cheap), and a travel hairdryer – or use the hotel's. Also, take only 2 pairs of shoes – flat walking shoes and a nice pair. (You can buy more there if you need to!) Funnily enough, some fabrics weigh more – linen is very heavy; cotton is light. Wool is heavy; cashmere is light. Also, take only x2 pairs of bras/undies – and wash them out. (Really, how many are you going to need? Most people are too tired at night to do anything but sleep!) Electronics are heavy too – take ONE multi-country international adaptor. (Apple make them for their products.) And load books and itineraries onto your iPad so you don't have to take paper (also heavy). Your total hand luggage should not weigh more than 10 kilos to be allowed through, so buy a little portable, hand-sized weigher. We use ours constantly!

3. Don't apply foundation before a flight as it's too heavy and will clog your skin. A tinted moisturiser or BB cream is great because it also moisturises the skin. If you want you can wipe it off with some handy wipes when you're seated, but I don't bother as it's so light.

4. Pack a few travel-sized Klorane Dry Hair Shampoos. Klorane Dry Shampoo not only cleans and lifts your hair after a long-haul flight, it actually makes it look like a salon blow-out! 

5. Buy compression socks or stocking. They really do stop swelling and potential blood clots. But don't buy the expensive $30 ones at chemists: supermarkets sell compression stockings for $5, which do the same trick. 

6. Aspirin. if you're over 40, always take 2 aspirin before you board a flight to avoid clotting. Also walk around – constantly. Stretch, or just stand for 10 minutes. It will make your muscles work again and get the blood flow moving.

7. Clarins' Beauty Flash Balm. Beauty editor friends swear by this and so do I. It's an intense moisturiser that acts like a mini-mask. Don't rub in it. Just smooth it over and let it dry. Your skin will look amazing afterwards.

8. Pack a portable recharger or portable phone / laptop battery. You may need it. I bought one from Rose Street Trading which is the size of a credit card and recharges both an iPhone and MacBook (you buy the adaptor for Apple products). You simply recharge the battery before you go and then keep it in your handbag for emergencies.

9. Consider noise-cancelling headphones to cut out the throbbing white noise of the engines – Bose are good. They really do make sleeping easier.

10. Be considerate of your fellow travellers. Say hello to the person next to you and "have a safe trip" when you leave. Strike up a conversation if they're chatty. Ask where they're going/where they've been/if they had a nice time? Let them out to stretch without frowning. You're on the plane for a while. Make it pleasant.

Did you see the hilarious article about real, but ridiculous, travel complaints – here? Here are a few:

1. "It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England. It took the Americans only three hours to get home. This seems unfair."

2. "We had to line up outside to catch the boat and there was no air-conditioning."

3. "My fiance and I booked a twin-bedded room but we were placed in a double-bedded room. We now hold you responsible for the fact that I find myself pregnant. This would not have happened if you had put us in the room that we booked."

4. "No one told us there would be fish in the water. The children were scared."

5. "Although the brochure said that there was a fully-equipped kitchen, there was no egg-slicer in the drawers."

6. "The roads were uneven and bumpy, so we could not read the local guide book during the bus ride to the resort. Because of this, we were unaware of many things that would have made our holiday more fun."

7. "There were too many Spanish people there. The receptionist spoke Spanish, the food was Spanish. No one told us that there would be so many foreigners."

8. "We found the sand was not like the sand in the brochure. Your brochure shows the sand as white but it was more yellow."

Some people should just never leave home...


  1. Vicki,
    I am still laughing about the complaints section - unreal - and so funny. I agree, they probably should stay home! For all the other wonderful bits of information I am printing the whole blog right now. Some of it I knew, and I use Seatguru always, but your blog today puts all these wonderful tips in one place - thank you for a great and informative (and funny) post! Bon Voyage to all!

    1. Hi Judy, Thanks for your kind comment. Hope you find some useful info for your future travels!

  2. Why did I say Vicki! I meant Jeanelle! so sorry, can you tell I was also reading VA blog just seconds ago! Sorry about that, Janelle!!!

  3. My one travel tip is..when in hot, dusty, crowded and/or humid countries (which dont have all the amenities of Australia) and it all gets too much pop into that international / several starred hotel for air con, a drink and a general re charging of the batteries

    1. We haven't done too many dusty, hot, crowded countries Stephanie. My travel is usually the 'milk run' from London-Paris-NY and back again! Incredibly boring when you're working. But I'm dying to see Jaipur and Raja Ampat (the latter isn't so crowded), so will def use the 'air-conditioned cocktail trick' then! It would also be a lovely way to see a glamorous hotel without staying in it. Those fantastic Asian countries have so many amazing old colonial or French colonial hotels – India too....

  4. Janelle
    Thanks for the tips (as always). have checked out Frugal First Class Travel and have found another blog through Jo "Aussie In France".
    Thanks again - always love a new post from you.
    Catherine x

    1. Jo's blog is great, isn't it? I'm so glad you found it useful.

      Jo also wrote a post about using packing bags (can't remember what they're called), which compress your things into separate smaller bags so you can fit more into your suitcase / carry-on.

      I usually use cream, tie-up calico bags (which often come with shoes or handbags when you buy them) to separate underwear from scarves and shoes inside my bag, after a favourite Armani jacket was ruined by white talcum powder. It's also easier to find things when they're in separate bags, and they keep your silk scarves from getting snagged too. But I hadn't heard of Jo's compression bags, so will now go to Kathmandu stores and find some.

  5. Nice site Jeanelle!
    Never can have enough travel tips, and those complaints are a hoot aren't they! I just have a little advise on those hotel booking sites.
    I have to travel a lot for my business mostly in Europe, but often in the United States. I used to use sites like Travelocity, Expedia, or but I quickly found out, a better way to find deals is to go to the second level- those sites like who compare the hundreds of different booking sites in one single free search. So this way you not only see the Expedia, or Trivago deals but ALL of them in one place. I know I've saved a ton of money since I started using them. So I have to say using just one of the top booking sites is not always the best idea.

    1. Thank you. And I agree completely – never rely on just one source of travel info. In fact, I was trying to find a Christmas airfare and Expendia fares were $1000 more than if I booked directly with airlines.

      Those second-level sites sound great, and I shall certainly look at reservation booth. I suspect many of those sites have alliances (I think does), and so they don't really bring up ALL the airlines and their specials / fares.

      For example, Sri Lanka Airlines is a great little cheapie for getting to Europe (best to pick it up in Singapore), and it often allows shows flights that allow you to have a day or two day-long stopover in Colombo, so you can buy cheap Ceylon sapphires! One friend even had a stopover in the Maldives, as the hopper-flights over to Male are often only $50 - $80. And SL Airlines is incredibly cheap too. But the sites such as SkyScanner, etc don't bring it up. S it really does pay to look around.

      Thanks for commenting. So great to hear your thoughts.

  6. I reckon this would have to be my favourite Library post of all time! I decided years ago never to travel with Grumpy Husband again, he's a nightmare. So we happily take separate flights to often different destinations these days!! And I'm very unsociable as I refuse to get eye contact with the person sitting next to me. I talk all day for a living & can't bear the thought of having to do it at 30,000 ft. for any length of time. That no-contact quiet time is gold.
    M xx

    1. Hello Miss Mills! How hilarious! Surely grumpy husband could sit in another seat or even stay in another room?

      Travelling with whingy people is the worst! I still remember a few people I met last year who complained about everything from muddy driveways (when visiting country gardens), to crowded gardens (and even snarled when people moved into their photos!). They really had nothing nice to say about being chauffeured around to see glorious English gardens. But you have to forgive people too: they get weary; homesick, and disorientated and often suffer a kind of culture shock outside their own comfy surrounds. Some people take a little while to understand that travel is often arduous. That's all part of the adventure.

      Perhaps Grumpy Bum just likes being at home? I know my partner was a staunch homebody before he met me. Now, he's the first to say "Let's do Siem Reap at Christmas!"

  7. this is the most fabulous post in a series of fabulous ones…some wonderful tips, thank you!


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